Trinidad and Tobago has produced multiple players that have made a mark in MLS – Stern John and Cordell Cato are two names that spring to mind – but few have arrived with such high expectations as Orlando City’s Kevin Molino.
The attacking midfielder was a two-time league MVP in the team’s USL days and seemed to be the perfect link-man alongside Designated Player Kaká – until he went down with a season-ending ACL injury last May.
But now he is back again and, even without Kaká in the lineup, he has shown he can be a creative force and a handful for most defenses. Here’s the skinny on the 25-year-old from Carenage ahead of Trinidad and Tobago's World Cup qualifier against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday (7 pm ET, beIN Sports Connect in US).
Soccer Second, At First
Coming from the traditionally cricket-oriented Caribbean, soccer was not the obvious sport for Molino as a youngster. “I didn’t really take it seriously until I was about 15,” he admits. “But once I got into it, it was definitely my sport and I loved the physical side of it.”
A Two-Sport Star
Molino appeared destined for a cricket career in his early days. Coming from Trinidad – the birthplace of West Indies legend Brian Lara – most kids played that sport ahead of anything else and the young Kevin was a keen batsman with plenty of talent. One of his best friends is West Indies opening batsman Lendl Simmons, and Molino could easily have followed in Simmons’ footsteps if soccer hadn’t worked its way into his life.
Orlando Discovered Him By Accident
Lions head coach Adrian Heath admits his trip to Trinidad to scout players in 2010 was not to check up on Molino. “I didn’t go down there to look at him originally,” Heath explains. “I went to look at a promising young forward but this little kid on the wing kept catching my eye. In the end, that’s who we ended up signing.” The 5-foot-8 Molino signed from Trinidad & Tobago Pro League side Ma Pau SC in time for the Lions’ inaugural 2011 USL season, making 11 appearances and scoring twice that year.
Diamond In The Rough
Molino became a regular in the starting lineup in the 2012 season at just 21, making 23 appearances (only striker Dennis Chin made more, with 24). For Heath, getting to see the youngster in training every day was a revelation. “Only when you worked with him did you realize his true talent,” he recalls. “He was a kid who had a great first touch, great awareness, who combined well with players and who could beat players individually. He was everything you need in a modern midfield player or striker.”
He impressed MLS, too
Before Orlando reached the MLS ranks, Molino made a major impression on one of the league’s top men. Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer played with the Lions on loan in 2013 (scoring 19 goals in 14 appearances) and came away believing he had seen a star in the making. “Dom said that Kevin had all the ability to be MVP of MLS when we finally made the grade,” Heath remembers.
The First Signing
While Kaká drew all the headlines in 2014 when he confirmed his move from AC Milan to Orlando, the team’s first actual MLS signing was Molino, before a ball had been kicked that year. Head coach Heath confirmed, “Kevin was out of contract with us and was being courted heavily in Europe and the States. He turned down deals from several MLS teams to stay with us in Orlando. That says a lot about his love for this club.”
One Step Back To Take Two Forward
Although his 2015 injury was a huge blow for both Molino and the team – leaving a huge void in midfield they struggled to fill at times – the short-term pain could lead to long-term gain. While he is quick and skillful, Molino lacked a little weight for the week-in, week-out rigors of MLS, but he believes the lay off helped him work on that. “I spent a lot of time in the gym during my rehab,” he insists, “and I feel stronger as a result, mentally as well as physically.” At the end of 2014, he was listed at 143 lbs. Now he weighs it in at a more robust 155.
That Elusive First Goal
While Molino remains one of the team’s chief creators, he has yet to bag his first MLS goal, and that bothers him, especially after his prolific 20-goal USL season in 2014. “It’s definitely on my mind,” he says. “My job is to make and score goals. I have certainly had a couple of chances this year and, no excuses, I should have done better. The reality is, I have to finish and it is something I have to keep working on.”
Plenty More Like Me
Molino is well established in the Trinidad and Tobago national team – coming off a shift in last week's 3-2 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the road (“It’s good to have him back,” said T&T head coach Stephen Hart. “It’s exciting for the country and fantastic news he is playing 90 minutes for Orlando again”) – but he insists there are certainly others like him on the islands. “Yes, there are plenty of players there but it is a hard place to come out of. They just need the chance – like me.”
Giving Back To His Community
Having made a name for himself in the pro game, and being a proud representative of his country in both playing and community terms, Molino wants to do more for Trinidad and Tobago. “Yes, some kind of foundation to help others there is one of my goals,” he admits. “I would like to give back in many different ways, not just by showing them some love but by showing how much football can get you if you work hard and are dedicated.”